Review Blog

May 27 2013

The Yalda Crossing by Noel Beddoe

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University of Queensland Press, 2012. ISBN 978 0 7022 49396
(Age: Senior secondary) The purpose of Noel Beddoe's novel is to revisit the massacre of members of the Wiradjuri people by white settlers on the Murrumbidgee River near what is now Narrandera in the early 1840s. He does this through the eyes of Young James the adolescent son of one of the settlers Captain James Beckett. Brought up in England by a loving grandfather on whose death he is mistreated by uncles, James is whisked away to Australia by his father who he always refers to as The Captain and who he regards with a mixture of fear and awe 'I could not look in his face and speak of myself'. They land in Sydney and use the profits from selling their cargo to buy provisions for a journey over the mountains to settle Yalda Crossing, land, outside those designated open to settlement by the government. The group endure hardships while establishing themselves but things really start to go wrong when they expand onto the local people's sacred lands.
The novel admirably leads us to consider the pressures experienced by both the native people and the inexperienced settlers which led to disputes, misunderstandings and in this case a massacre. The settlement prospered but for Young James the cost was too high and he spent the rest of his life haunted by it. Much as I admired the work I found it difficult to accommodate the structure of the book where the 'present' (Sydney 40 years later presented in italics) is interleaved with what are purportedly journals written at the time. I also found little character development, even accepting the emotional stunting their backgrounds might suggest, which made it difficult to relate to the moral dilemmas they faced. That said this is still a valuable reflection on a rarely examined aspect of Australian history suitable for all senior secondary students.
Sue Speck

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